Alice Kober, Aegean prehistory, and the media

The strength of the publicity being showered on Alice Kober’s work at the moment is quite striking. The recent interest has been sparked by a new book by Margalit Fox, entitled The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code (Harper Collins). The book and Alice Kober’s pioneering work have been the subject of articles in the BBC, the New York Times (by Margalit Fox), and PRI’s the World. (One article that is not in the popular media but ought to be read by all prehistorians interested in Kober is this blog post).

Alice Kober

The evident interest in Alice Kober generated by this popular book, has made me reflect on the fact that Aegean prehistorians have not done a good a job as they might have in communicating the excitement and interest of Greek prehistory to a popular audience. This is not to say that we haven’t been good at outreach — prehistorians give many public lectures through the AIA’s lecture tours, for example, and Greek prehistory has a fairly strong presence on the web. It nevertheless remains the case that few books for a popular audience have been written about Aegean prehistory, and when they have, they haven’t received much attention. I think that this is because such books have been written as handbooks or textbooks, not as narratives. That narrative is important seems clear from the first sentence describing Margalit Fox’s book on the Harper Collins website:

In the tradition of Simon Winchester and Dava Sobel, The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code tells one of the most intriguing stories in the history of language, masterfully blending history, linguistics, and cryptology with an elegantly wrought narrative. (emphasis mine)

It is, it seems to me, a mistake for archaeologists of Greek prehistory to ignore the fact that we could be doing a much better job communicating the excitement of our work to a broader audience. We might begin by thinking about narrative. In some ways this is difficult. The nature of archaeological work is such that it’s not so much based on lone detectives,  but on teams of scholars. These teams work in different places at different times, engaging in a multiplicity of scholarly narratives that intersect and dovetail. But if we want to make our work accessible and interesting, and if we want to control the narratives about our discipline, some of us will need to think in these terms.


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